Another flaw of German military strategy was their immense dependency on the one military method of ‘Blitzkrieg’ to achieve all their policies and goals. First of all, Blitzkrieg was extremely similar to the Schlieffen plan, which had involved swift military campaign against France followed by Russia9. This would suggest that German revision of an old strategy meant they had not learnt from their former mistakes and their reliance on swiftness still remained. However, it could be argued that German victory was due to the exhaustion of the other belligerent from the First World War, and not their military strategy.
Partially, German triumph was due to the unprepared countries being taken by surprise, and not because of the innovativeness of ‘Blitzkrieg’10. Evidence to support this statement can be derived from the recovery of other countries once WWII got under way. One example of this was the resistance movement, within occupied countries. After overcoming the shock of their predicament they nevertheless found ways to fight back.
Evidence of the countries unprepared state is available from Britain.
According to its ten year plan another war could not be fought until the length of time had passed. However, once it became apparent that war was inevitable they soon modified their war plans and military strategy. Debatably, Britain was allowed this luxury due to her geographical location as an island. If she had been part of the mainland she would have been overwhelmed as other mainland countries.
Arguably, Germany greatest mistake was to assume that a rapid Blitzkrieg operation would work against Russia, like their prior conquests of France and Poland.
However, the geography of the USSR differed quite significantly as its vast landmass could not be fully encircled by German troops. This was coupled with other military blunders, including the misallocation of resources. In some cases, such as with oil, this eventually led to shortages and had to be replaced with poor quality and synthetic materials. These served to intensify the competition which already existed between the different German military branches, including the Navy, the SS and the Army; all of whom were vying for these scarce materials. Because Germany concentrated more on a land war strategy they were restricted to limited raw materials.
They did not have the option to import necessary raw materials from over-seas. One argument exists that if Germany had placed more energy into fighting at sea, specifically in the Mediterranean Ocean (alongside their Italian allies) and in the Middle-East, then they could have attempted to deprive Britain of the Suez Canal and limit their access to oil fields. Consecutively, it might have induced Turkey to join the war, in their favour, and aid their encirclement of the USSR. However, their strategic insistence of a purely land war contributed to their failure.
Alternatively, Bond has argued that the Germans did not actually have a war strategy called ‘blitzkrieg’ but that their actions were later given the title on retrospect11. This could be criticised as being extremely disorganised and chaotic, as Germany was going to war with no specific strategy in mind. It may also be an indication of why the strategy did not work and explain why they lost the war; they had not truly formalised a war strategy. On the other hand, just because a strategy has not been given a name does not mean that it did not exist.
Furthermore, Sun Tzu author of ‘The Art of War’ argues that to win a battle is not to obliterate one’s enemy. Instead true victory is capturing the enemy while inflicting minimal damage; “Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in break-ing the enemy’s resistance without fighting”Using blitzkrieg as an example Germany managed to accomplish this style of warfare, capturing the rest of the continent quite effortlessly with little damage, for example; Poland within three weeks and France within six to seven weeks.
In addition, both were captured unaware, another method advocated by Sun Tzu. However, when faced with a vast Soviet Union this method encountered problems. It would not be sufficient to bomb specific targets in order to lower their moral as the majority would have remained largely unaffected. In addition, as the Soviet Union was operating under a dictatorship it would have been easy for their government to control information and manipulate the population with misinformation on the success of the blitzkrieg invasion, and thereby limiting morale impact.
Another fundamental flaw of German strategy was the underutilised air force which was only deployed to support ground force and never in sufficient quantities. The Luftwaffe also failed to develop strategic bombing technique. Therefore, while Germans endured bombing from Britain by night and America by day, they did not reciprocate the action to an even degree. Effectively this meant they suffered more casualties and destruction than they inflicted back.
Also, the German emphasis was on quality over quantity which meant that standardisation (mass, bulk productions of one product) was never introduced. This in turn meant there was a shortage of equipment. The development of their ‘wonder weapons’ also proved futile as there was no practical use for them. They consumed time, resources, and skilled labour while giving very little pay-back in return. The final military blunder to consider is their intelligence unit, whose transmitted encrypted codes were cracked by the British, using the cipher machine ENIGMA. This meant that their lines of communication had been compromised13.
As previously mentioned a fundamental problem faced by dictatorships is the lack of balance between political and military strategy. This can be problematic in a number of different ways. Firstly, there is an overwhelming emphasis on the military strategy, especially in a dictatorship. The lack of political consideration, of negotiation, diplomacy and so forth can prove problematic. Additionally, it can be argued that the qualities and management style of a leader (in this case Hitler) could be more important than the country’s strategy. This is potent in a dictatorship where power is concentrated in one man.
Therefore, regardless of the potential effectiveness of a strategy if it is poorly executed it may yet fail. For instance, Hitler insisted upon a micro-management style of leadership once the war had begun. He attempted to manage all his troops, right down to each battalion. This is despite Hitler never having personally achieved a rank higher than corporal, and therefore he did not always have the relevant expertise required to make the correct decision in comparison to another individual who has specialised knowledge. “[Hitler’s]…tendency to attempt to micro-manage the Third Reich once the war broke out led directly to his downfall… he insisted on taking decisions that ought to have been left to far more junior officers.”
Theoretically, Hitler’s advisers could have recommended the best course of action not only in the military sphere but also on the economics and politics of Germany. A field of specialist advisers could have been especially recruited for this purpose. However, there was no guarantee on whether Hitler would tolerate this interference, or follow their recommendation. Also, since Nazi-Germany was a dictatorship no-one existed to challenge Hitler, or advise him against his will.
Thus, the decision-making process was stream-lined. This was further impounded by his purges of the army during the ‘Night of Long Knives’ and the annihilation of the two great German military figure-heads; the execution of Schleicher and removal of Hammerstein15. This effectively left a vacuum, which Hitler stepped in to fill. It also frightened the majority into compliance and made them wary of confronting Hitler, regardless of whether his actions seemed rational or not. In contrast, Churchill’s leadership style was much more relaxed. Instead of managing every little battle he opted to control the general flow of the war16.
In conclusion, perhaps the fundamental flaws in German strategy were a combination of ideological dictatorship, military blunders, unhealthy dependency on blitzkrieg with no alternative complimentary strategy, and bad leadership. Initially, Germany managed to exploit to their advantage other nations complacency and reluctance to go to war. However, once it became apparent that the only way to counter Germany’s aggressive actions was through war they quickly began mobilising. Confronted with a determined and better prepared force (then those of whom they had already captured), they were unable to cope. Consequently, the flaws within their strategy soon became evident.
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